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Films, Videos, and DVD’s on West Virginia and Appalachia 2007

By Steve Fesenmaier

We Are Marshall
2006 128 mins. Warner Bros.
Based on the true story of the 1970 Marshall University plane crash – the worst sports disaster in American history — this major-studio production stars Matthew McConaughey as Jack Lengyel, the coach who led the university and the Huntington community from tragedy to triumph. Matthew Fox plays assistant coach Red Dawson, who helps Lengyel rebuild the team after giving up his seat on the doomed flight to another member of the Marshall squad. David Strathairn plays the president of Marshall University, who attempts to restore the school's broken spirit against overwhelming odds. Portions of the film were shot on location in Huntington and feature a large number of local citizens and university students as film extras.

Cam Henderson A Coach’s Story
2007 55 mins. Witek & Novak
Cam Henderson was arguably the greatest sports coach in West Virginia history, first at Bristol High School in Harrison County, then Davis & Elkins College, and finally at Marshall College. His football and basketball teams were champions. He invented the fast break and zone defense for basketball. Marshall won the national championship in 1947 and broke the color barrier in West Virginia college sports under his leadership. Because he didn’t want people to know about his diabetes, his career came to an untimely end. This film recently won a first-place award at the Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival.
Access: Marshall Bookstore at 1-800 547 1262

Asturian U.S.
2006 52 mins. Luis Argeo
The town of Arnao, in the Asturias province of northern Spain, grew under the wing of the Royal Mining Company — a leading zinc producer. After the closure of its mine at the beginning of the 20th century, many employees and their families emigrated to similar operations in the New World, some in Harrison County. New towns were created, including Spelter and Anmoore, near Clarksburg. Their populations were 90% Asturians. Today, only remnants and memories remain of these little-known Appalachian Spanish communities. Filmmaker Luis Argeo traveled from Spain in spring 2006 to document these people with the assistance of Chip Hitchcock of WVPBS.
Access: Luis Argeo at

Music of Heaven – Old-Time Music from the Coal River Country
2006 60 mins. Augusta Heritage Center
This film by 2006 West Virginia Filmmaker of the Year Gerry Milnes is about the extraordinary talents of William Sherman “Junior” Holstein. His nephew and apprentice, Gary Wayne Jordan, introduces us to Junior, from Emmons, Kanawha County, located near the Boone County line on the Coal River. He plays some rare and beautiful old time fiddle tunes and sings several old songs and words to fiddle tunes, plus one original song to his own musical accompaniment. Junior visits with other traditional musicians in the area, describes old time methods of making moonshine, and leads us through some of his own trials and tribulations as he battles personal demons. The title tune, “Music of Heaven,” a soulful instrumental, aptly relates to Junior’s fixation on his prospects for the afterlife.

The Rhythm of My Soul – Kentucky Roots Music
2006 55 mins. Florentine Films/Sherman Pictures
This recent documentary features some true national treasures from Eastern Kentucky, including 77-year-old banjo player Lee Sexton; 80-year-old fiddle maker Buddy Ratcliff, who played with Merle Travis; the Tri City Messengers, a gospel group made up of retired black coal miners; the Carriere Family, with 10- and 12-year-old fiddle players Josh and Stacie; songwriter Rob McNurlin and the Beatnik Cowboys band; bluegrass band Bottomline; fiddler John Harrod; mandolin picker and singer Don Rigsby; fiddler Jesse Wells; dulcimer maker Warren May; and others. It was directed by Roger Sherman and produced for the Southern & Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association.

Christmas Family Tragedy
2006 60 mins. Break of Dawn Productions
This film is about the Lawson Family Massacre of Christmas Day 1929 in Stokes County, North Carolina. On that day, respected tobacco farmer Charlie Lawson brutally murdered his wife and six of his seven children before committing suicide – one of the most horrible and mysterious mass murders in North Carolina history. The Lawson murders became immortalized in several bluegrass songs (“Murder of the Lawson Family,” “Story of the Lawson Family,” “Ballad of the Lawsons,” “The Ballad of Charlie Lawson”, “Charlie Lawson’s Still,” etc.), ghost stories, tours of the crime scene, and legends known coast to coast. This film shows for the first time the true tragedy: the story of the families, the continuing effect it has on the community, and the tragedy of rural domestic violence.
Access: Break of Dawn Productions at

The Devil and Daniel Johnston
2006 110 mins. This is That Productions and Complex Corp.
Songwriter and artist Daniel Johnston grew up in New Cumberland, Hancock County, eventually becoming homeless, then famous in Austin, Texas. More than 100 recording and performing groups have sung his songs, including Beck, Wilco, Sonic Youth, and Pearl Jam. Johnston also became a well known primitive artist, selling his paintings for thousands of dollars. Using extensive documentation Johnston recorded of his own life, the madness that hounded him is revealed, which eventually sent him to Weston State Hospital. This film was the winner of the directing award for documentary films at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

National Road in West Virginia
2006 30 mins. Walkabout Company
The National Road — the first interstate road — went through parts of northwestern Virginia, now Ohio County, West Virginia. This film takes the viewer on a sightseeing tour, revealing some of the landmarks that make the road still famous after more than a century.
Access: Phone 1 877 242 8133 (Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum) or (304)232 1810 (Wheeling Artisan Center)

The Battle of Local 5668
2007 54 mins. Shawn Bennett
Shawn Bennett grew up in Parkersburg, studying film at Pittsburgh Filmmakers and studying under filmmaker Julia Reichert (Union Maids). Shawn’s father, Joe Bennett, worked at the Ravenswood aluminum plant for years and was part of the famous lockout that took place for almost two years starting in 1990. Using historical footage, TV news broadcasts, and interviews with people who took part in one of the most important labor struggles in recent American history, Bennett presents a compelling story of global capitalism vs. determined workers.
Access: or

The Electricity Fairy
2007 25 mins. Appalshop
Tom Hansell is best known for his powerful film about overweight coal trucks in Eastern Kentucky, titled Coal Bucket Outlaw. [See “Films and Videos on West Virginia and Appalachia,” by Steve Fesenmaier; Winter 2003.] His new film is about West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky as exporters of both coal and electricity. Exploitation of natural resources for power generation makes the impact of the nation’s electricity consumption highly visible in these three states. The film combines present-day documentary footage with older educational films and an animated folk tale to reveal the hidden costs of coal.
Access: Appalshop at

In Memory of the Land and People
1977 (2007) 55 mins. Omni Productions
Using his own funds, Robert Gates, a former chemical/computer engineer at Union Carbide in Charleston, traveled throughout West Virginia, Appalachia, and the country, filming the effects of strip mining coal. The film has no narration, only the voices of people whose land and lives have been affected by this practice. It was shown to the U.S. Congress and helped motivate national legislative regulation of strip mining. The film, now available on DVD, has won many awards and has been shown all over the U.S.
Access: Omni Productions, Box 5130 Charleston, WV 25361, phone (304)342 2624;

Mountaintop Removal
2006 57 min. Haw River Films
This film explores the issue of mountaintop removal mining through the actions of citizen activists, coal industry officials, and author Jeff Goodell. Starting with Mountain Justice Summer activists and Coal River Valley residents Ed Wiley, Maria Gunnoe, and Larry Gibson, the film chronicles the anti-mountaintop removal movement from the spring of 2005 to September 2006. Mingo County resident Carmilita Brown's 20-year battle for clean water is also explored. The soundtrack is by Donna the Buffalo, Julie Miller, John Specker, and Sarah Hawker.
Access: Haw River Films at

Moving Mountains
2006 30 mins. Virginia Bendl Moore
Virginia Bendl Moore was a student at the University of Virginia when she created this documentary on the effects of mountaintop removal mining, mainly in Southern West Virginia. The film opens with West Virginia politicians and coal industry leaders talking about the importance of coal to the state. West Virginia Coal Association president Bill Raney is interviewed, talking about the coal industry being “the real environmentalists.” The “usual suspects” are interviewed on the anti MTR side – Larry Gibson, Ed Wiley, and Maria Gunnoe. The filmmaker uses several classic film clips, including ones from Harlan County, USA and That High Lonesome Sound, counterpoising the scenes of destruction and denial that take place on camera.
Access: E mail filmmaker at

Note: There are 71 other videos on mountaintop removal mining posted at YouTube as of March 2007. There are also other videos on Appalachia and MTR posted at

God’s Gift of a Wild and Wonderful Land
2007 18 mins. Patchwork Films
Using stunning photography and beautiful religious music, the Monongahela National Forest is presented as a wilderness area that must be preserved for future generations. The forest is more than 900,000 acres in size, located in 10 different counties. Facts about the forest and Biblical links are emphasized along with an appreciation of God’s creation. Viewers are encouraged to contact national and state legislators in support of protecting West Virginia wilderness areas.
Access: Patchwork Films at

Field of Flowers
2006 50 mins. Heartwood in the Hills
Jude Binder has been teaching West Virginia children and adults about dance, music, and art for decades in Calhoun County. In recent years, a group of exceptional artists have worked to combine song, drama, dance, animation, and masks with poetry and symbolism to convey the impact of domestic violence. They have fashioned a world of timeless drama that fuses personal testimony, historical court records, and artistic invention to link the phenomenon of domestic violence to the universal human struggle for freedom from violence and shame. Produced with the assistance of the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Access: Heartwood in the Hills at

Beautiful You
2006 34 mins. Real Earth Productions
Judy and Ray Schmitt have completed their portrait of one of West Virginia’s most unusual artists, poet and sculptor Ai Qiu Hopen. She is the daughter of Chinese beekeepers who found her husband, Bill Hopen, via the Internet. Hopen is a well-known Sutton based sculptor who founded the Landmark Studio for the Arts. The title of the film comes from “Beautiful You,” a song by Elaine Wine who was performing in Sutton one night when the Schmitts were visiting. Ai Qiu’s beautiful drawings are shown along with some of her other artwork. She is shown sculpting “Blind Boone” and “Spirit of the Violin.” She talks about her life in China, her work, and her life in West Virginia with her husband and two young children. Her Web site is
Access: Real Earth Productions at

For the Love of Theater
2006 28 mins. Real Earth Productions
Hardy County filmmaker Ray Schmitt and colleague Joshua Miller created this portrait of the Landmark Players in Sutton and the company’s director, Jim Walker. Several actors talk about the influence Jim Walker, and their general participation in theater, have had on their lives.
Access: Real Earth Productions at

2007 100 mins. Wazzlehog Films
This indie feature film, directed by David Smith, a native of Oak Hill and a Marshall University student, was filmed mostly in Huntington and Fayette County. According to the plot, Glen Collins has wanted a girlfriend ever since he was five years old, without much luck. Enter D'arcy, a mysterious young woman who actually seems interested in Glen. There's just one problem – she's a cannibal. Unwilling to let that get in the way of his long awaited chance at true love, Glen agrees to help D'arcy find victims. This film was screened at the 2007 Appalachian Film Festival in the Young Filmmakers competition and was submitted to the 2007 West Virginia International Film Festival Student Competition, as well as other festivals outside of the state.